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Understanding Ball Lenses - Guide from Edmund Optics

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www.edmundoptics.com /resources/application-notes/optics/understanding-ball-lenses/

Ball lenses are great optical components for improving signal coupling between fibers, emitters, and detectors.

They are also used in endoscopy, bar code scanning, ball pre-forms for aspheric lenses, and sensor

applications. Ball lenses are manufactured from a single substrate of glass and can focus or collimate light,

depending upon the geometry of the input source. Half-ball lenses are also common and can be interchanged

with full ball lenses if the physical constraints of an application require a more compact design.

There are five key parameters needed to understand and use ball lenses (Figure 1): Diameter of Input Source

(d), Diameter of Ball Lens (D), Effective Focal Length of Ball Lens (EFL), Back Focal Length of Ball Lens (BFL)

and Index of Refraction of Ball Lens (n).

(Equation 1) since there are

only two variables involved:

Diameter of Ball Lens (D) and

Index of Refraction (n). EFL is

measured from the center of

the ball lens, indicated by R in

Figure 1. BFL (Equation 2) is

easily calculated once EFL and

D are known.

(1)

(2)

For collimated incident light, the numerical aperture (NA) of the ball lens is dependent on the size of the ball lens

(D), its index of refraction (n), and the diameter of the input source (d). Using f-number = EFL/d, a relation

between NA and d/D can be obtained (Equation 3), which is plotted in Figure 2.

(3)

Equation 3 assumes that the refractive index outside of the ball lens (n m) equals 1. In the paraxial limit (i.e.

d/D<<1), the numerical aperture can be estimated from the f-number as NA 1/(2 x f-number), which yields

Equation 4.

(4)

1/3

Figure 2: Numerical Aperture vs. Diameter for Ball Lens Glass Types offered by Edmund

Optics. (n at 587.6nm and nm = 1)

As d/D increases, the focused spot size at the back focal length of the lens increases, due to increased spherical

aberration.

Application Examples

When coupling light from a laser into a fiber optic, the choice of ball lens is dependent on the NA of the fiber and

the diameter of the laser beam, or the input source. The diameter of the laser beam is used to determine the NA

of the ball lens. The NA of the ball lens must be less than or equal to the NA of the fiber optic in order to couple all

of the light. The ball lens is placed at its back focal length from the fiber as shown in Figure 3.

Initial Parameters

Diameter of Input Laser Beam = 2mm

Index of Refraction of Ball Lens = 1.5168

Numerical Aperture of Fiber Optic = 0.22

From Figure 2, the NA of an N-BK7 ball lens is about 0.22 for d/D 0.3 to 0.35. Equation 3 yields d/D 0.33 for

NA = 0.22. You would need an N-BK7 ball lens with a diameter greater than 6mm ( 2mm/0.33) to couple a 2mm

laser source into a 0.22 NA fiber optic. One can easily try different indices of refraction in order to find the best

ball lens for a laser-to-fiber coupling application.

2/3

To couple light from

one fiber optic to

another fiber optic

of similar NA, two

identical ball lenses

can be used. Place

the two ball lenses

at the back focal

length from the

fibers as shown in

Figure 4. If the

optical fibers have

the same NA, then

the same logic as in

Example 1 can be

applied.

Figure 4: Fiber

to Fiber

Coupling

Lenses

Range of substrates

for performance in

the UV to the NIR spectra. Full-ball, half-ball, drum, or condenser lenses available.

Thousands of spherical lenses ready for purchase, available in glass and crystalline materials with standard and

custom coatings. Dont see what you need? We can make it.

Optical Glass

Selecting a glass material is important since different glass types have different characteristics. Learn all about

the different characteristics to help you choose the right one for your application.

3/3

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